this one might have been called, “how to ruin a perfect morning by insisting on seeing what one should have turned a blind eye to”, or “what do you mean the doormat won’t budge?”, or “who needs a gym when you have a doormat?” the options are many but they all come down to one thing: a doormat. one with its heels firmly dug in, into the marble at that.

it all started with a simple rectangular piece of coir with a rubber lining, you are familiar with the kind of thing I am talking about, no doubt. You possibly have one of these things lying right outside your door. They are usually bristly, sturdy, effective, and fairly nondescript as doormats often are. You don’t spend an inordinate amount of time pondering over them, even if you love doing up your home and generally like to walk into a house that looks and feels happy, as I do.

We had used such doormats for many years, never occurred to me that it could do what it did. I am not personifying the obdurate thing, It really did it all without much help from anyone. We live in an apartment, the foyer outside is marble tiled. Besides the doormat, we have a couple of plants, a large bell metal urli and a ceramic ottoman there, that’s all.

The mat is lifted up every now and then and vigorous vacuuming and mopping gets done, sometimes the water from the flower pots overflows and again the mat is moved. What i am trying to get at is, the indolent doormat doesn’t stay in one place like the qutab minar or the statue of liberty, it leaves its door front abode every so often and returns without a murmur, settling down quite comfortably post that.

the other day, i went and caught hold of a corner to pick it up. it started to roll off the floor and then suddenly, it stopped. it just wouldn’t budge. i yanked. no go. then the mat began to tear. i was surprised, but thought, oh well, it has lived its life and i just need to get a new one. but still, why was it stuck, why wasn’t it moving? i yanked once more, a piece of mat came off in my hand, the rest stayed put. what?

in utter consternation, i tried to figure out what could have caused this situation. had some glue fallen on the floor? had … had… (i was completely perplexed, no ready or even bizarre explanation popping to mind, you see, such a thing had never happened before)…

had there been a heat wave which had fused latex and marble?

i thought of all possibilities. perhaps worn and weary, it couldn’t handle the vacuum cleaner’s high temperature and melted, or maybe the water had caused the rubber to rot. silly, said my mind, rubber won’t rot. i tried to pass the blame. the maid hadn’t… the gardener must have.. the teenager at home…

no, there were no good explanations. the mat was stuck to the floor. the landlord’s marble was now coated with latex and old coir. we may need a crane to pull it off.

so i did a wise thing. i placed the torn piece back where it belonged and walked away. i mumbled something to people in the house but didn’t go back to check on things after that.

i should have remained in that state of denial, and not opened the door this morning, determined to solve the problem. really, why do we make such a big deal of solving things? what would have happened if i’d let the mat lie there eternally pasted to the grey marble belonging to the landlord? i mean, we could have handed back the house to him with that doormat, couldn’t we? he’d have thought we are helpful folks, happy to leave behind some stuff. it was really the doormat’s fault and its problem.

but staring down at it this morning around 9.45 am, i had this insane desire to get rid of the crumbling yet recalcitrant mat. i yanked. it remained motionless. i went and got my thirty-one year old trusted stainless steel cooking spatula and shoved along the edge, i hurt my hand. the mat stayed still. i called the gardener and moaned and groaned about a solvent. sounded like a good word, though the actual meaning escapes me. i went back and knelt down on the floor, my injured left knee protesting, clutched the edge of the wilful mat and attempted to pry it loose. no luck. i stood up and frowned darkly at the ageing coir, willing it to tell me how exactly it had gone and got stuck like that. and desperately wondering how to succeed at what i’d set out to do, the fear of failure creeping up on me.

mat in tatters melded with floor. soft, porous marble, stained and fused with rubber. rented house.

i am in hot water.

and it struck me. hot water. would that work?

so i rushed off and boiled a kettle of water, came back, gingerly poured some over the mat. steam rose, heat spread… the cussed thing just lay there unmoved. i let a couple of minutes pass, then grabbed the mat and pulled again. something yielded. i almost yelled, eureka. however, only a smidgen of coir and rubber wafted off. the rest stayed put.

i ran back to the kitchen and returned, this time with a lethal blunt dining knife, the sort that usually doesn’t cut the chicken it’s meant to. the edge of the rubber got a vicious knife poke, and again a tuft was out. i started going at the mat with the knife in earnest. seemed the hot water had some effect and was able to loosen the rubber, even though only in places. some more boiling water was poured. and i hacked away at the obstinate creature.

by now my husband was standing at the door, he’d just woken up and was in no mood to help. after the initial, “what are you doing?!” always uttered in exasperated tone, and “be careful!”, he said the mat looked like the map of china.

i had thought it resembled great britain, but i was in no mood for mirth. almost a half hour of mortal combat with mat had just gone by. pour hot water, seize mat, yank, stick in knife, grapple, scrape marble gently and get traces of wanton rubber off, pray you don’t scratch marble, chuck sloppy piece of coir into large garbage bag, seize mat again… all the while, throw newspaper on the water so that you don’t slip and fall flat on the floor– who knows, maybe it had some magic powers and you’d never be able to stand up again.

took almost two hours to get the wilful, definitely hostile mat off the floor. felt as if it was taking revenge for that stereotyping of its kind by us unthinking earthlings. my mother would have laughed and said, “just because it’s a doormat doesn’t mean it isn’t human.” and she would have definitely not opted to wrestle with a mat first thing in the morning, or ever.

at the beginning of the battle, i was standing and bending over perilously, no doubt permanently damaging my back; around the time great britain morphed into the philippines, i flopped down on the floor and stayed there going knife and hot water at the grizzly monster. my arms, back, abs, every inch of torso, eight fingers, and two thumbs moved constantly and frenziedly right through. this had to be the most extreme workout ever. i really don’t want toned upper arms though. please, also, may i have my breath back.

my husband said, “now it looks like you’ve divided china.” i tried not to show my true feelings.

i am writing all this down, scrape by scrape, hot water pour by hot water pour, so that should you ever find your doormat acting not like a doormat, you’ll know what to do. also, my fingers are somehow unable to return to stillness and since there’s no more rubber to scrape off the landlord’s marble floor, i thought why not…

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